Political violence and the hell of political cadres

Filed under: Special Comments |

kapikaBy Brown C. Kapika

Political violence has become a central part of political competition across the nation, and it takes many forms—from assaults to armed clashes between gangs called cadres employed by rival politicians from the ruling PF and opposition political party UPND. This violence is most often carried out by gangs called cadres whose members are openly recruited and paid by politicians and party leaders to attack their sponsors’ rivals, intimidate members of the public, rig elections, and protect their patrons from similar attacks.

Alongside the gangs themselves, the individuals most responsible for the abuses they commit are politicians and party officials—from all parties—who sponsor and at times openly participate in acts of violence. The architects, sponsors, and perpetrators of this violence generally enjoy complete impunity because of both the powers of intimidation they wield and the tacit acceptance of their conduct by police and government officials.

The Human Rights Impact of Political Violence

The pervasive role of violence in Zambian politics has a devastating human rights impact on ordinary Zambians. Thousands of Zambians have been deprived of their very right to life or have been subjected to physical assaults because of the violent nature of political competition in Zambia. But casualty estimates, considered alone, actually understate the scale of the human rights impact of political violence in Zambia. Violence also discourages and prevents political participation and plays a central role in denying ordinary Zambians a say in choosing their “elected” leaders.

Losing Control of Violence

Violence unleashed by politicians and their sponsors during Zambia general elections and other periods of political contestation does not simply fade away once the political battles have been decided. In many cases violence fomented for the purpose of winning elections has taken on a life and logic of its own and continued to generate widespread human rights abuses over the long term. Several Zambian towns and cities have been plagued by enduring violence after politicians either abandon or lose control over the gangs they initially employed. The attitude towards them [political thugs / cadres] is that they are like rabid dogs. They are prepared to bite their owner and their owners cannot be confident or sure of keeping them on a leash.

Politicians, Cults and Gangs

Political violence in Zambia is most often carried out by gangs / cadres whose members are openly recruited, financed and sometimes armed by public officials, politicians and party officials or their representatives. These gangs, comprised primarily of unemployed young men are mobilized to attack their sponsors’ rivals, intimidate members of the public, rig elections and protect their patrons from similar attacks. Often, sponsors of political violence turn time and again to the same criminal gangs, violent campus-based “cults” and other sources to recruit agents of political violence. Those recruited are paid, often very little, and sometimes armed for the sole purpose of carrying out violent abuses on behalf of their political sponsors.

Other Perpetrators of Political Violence

In some cases, members of the police have themselves been implicated in acts of political violence. There are policemen in Zambia who are being used by people in power to do what thugs would normally do.

Justifying and Taking Violence for Granted

Many Zambian politicians see violence—both as an offensive weapon and as a component of personal security—as a necessary part of any political campaign, and elections too are connected to how much money you have put into your ability to intimidate others. And some politicians argue that they must maintain some capacity to unleash violence as a measure of self-defense. And too it is not possible to have a campaign without your boys. If you are around, they too must be around.

In practice the line between self-defense and violent aggression is blurred at best. In other cases, Zambian politicians explain their use of political violence by pointing out the ineffectual or partisan response of law-enforcement agencies to violence that targets them.

And it goes on and on by revenging ‘I will fight back. If the law will not address the issue I will fight back using the same means…If the law fails to address the issue I would mobilize thugs too. There are boys that I know. I don’t like them, but it’s not that anybody has a monopoly on violence. Anybody can do it. Students are waiting to be mobilized’.


Honorable Brown Chibale Kotoka Kapika

President for ‘Adedo – Zamucano Political Party (Zambia)

President for ‘Partij voor de Burgerlijke en Mensenrechten’ Political Party (Netherlands) 


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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31